Nothing says summer like a good state fair. And as we plow forward through this divisive time in American History, it’s easy to forget just how strong our traditions are. This fourth of July wasn’t any less celebratory, despite the rough year that was 2018 — in which it seemed that America had forgotten some of its most basic values. Instead, people all around the country were excited to express what America means to them (some by cooking foods that actually come from the Americas).
State fairs are similar and this year’s productions are sure to be packed full of people who want to forget our differences and celebrate as one people (Nazis, not welcome). For many states across America, the summer state fair is often the biggest social event of the year. Not only do the locals come out in droves, but people in surrounding cities and states searching for the wildest fried foods, the fattest pigs, the most graceful equine, and the… semi-rickety rides and attractions also show up ready to get their fun on.
Here are the biggest and best state fairs running this summer season.
Ohio State Fair July 25th-August 5th
One of the largest state fairs in the United States, the Ohio State Fair is the perfect venue to kick off the summer fair season. This year, guests will be treated to a tattoo competition, a “Pork Rib-Off,” camel rides, a beard competition, and the annual Ohio State Fair Parade — where the fair’s famous mascot, Butters D. Cow, will be joined by notable locals and other entertainers.
It wouldn’t be the Ohio State Fair without butter sculptures either — it’s one of the fairgoers’ favorite tradition, and a perfect encapsulation of the madness and excess that is fair-culture.
Wisconsin State Fair August 2nd-August 12th
Cream puffs. If there is one thing that absolutely has to be mentioned about the Wisconsin State Fair it’s the cream puffs. Not only do they have a Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Contest, but they’ve been selling the iconic Original Cream Puff since 1924, with Fairgoers consuming an average of 350,000 of the delicacies at the fair each year.
The Fairgrounds are home to the Milwaukee Mile, the oldest continuously-operated racing circuit in the world with races and exhibition events held throughout the fair’s run. The Wisconsin Wine Garden is a strong presence at the fair too, offering wines from dozens of Wisconsin wineries, so grab some wine after a journey through the midway and top off the night with one of the headline musical performances taking place on the main stage every night.
Iowa State Fair August 9th-August 19th
Another of the biggest state fairs with over a million visitors annually, the 11-day Iowa State Fair is known for its variety of foods on a stick. In 2015 alone, they had 70 different skewered varieties. Like the Ohio State Fair they also have a revered butter sculpture of a cow, as well as an additional butter sculpture that changes annually. Past years have seen the likes of Harry Potter, Tiger Woods, Snow White and the seven dwarves, and Captain Kirk all sculpted in mountains of butter.
The Iowa State Fair is also home to a wide range of amusement park rides. In 2017, they unveiled what they dub the “Thrill Parks” — three separate ride areas that cater to everyone, from children to the most thrill-seeking fairgoers.
Kentucky State Fair August 16th-August 26th
The spirit of competition is alive and well at the Kentucky State Fair. Visitors this year will get to watch or compete in quilt-making, homebrewing, baking, fine arts, and agricultural competitions. But the highlight is without a doubt the Kentucky State Fair World’s Championship Horse Show. Attendees from all over the world flock to this competition every year, where more than 2,000 elite saddlebreds compete for a variety of different awards.
If competition isn’t your thing, the fairgrounds house all the amenities one would expect, like an exciting attraction-filled midway as well as more random events like health screenings and home improvement demonstrations.
The Great New York State Fair August 22nd-September 3rd
The Great New York State Fair is one of the oldest state fairs in the country. The first fair took place in 1841 in Syracuse and it’s been there ever since. These days more than a million people flock to the site annually.
This year, guests will be treated to a NY Food Truck competition, as well as a drone film festival, and performances from Blondie, Lil Yachty, Smokey Robinson and The Temptations to name a few. The New York State Fair is said to have some of the most prestigious equine competitions in the country, as well as a booming agricultural schedule. The Midway features approximately 100 rides and the Art & Home Center, a creative hub where culinary artists and craft makers display their work, and has hosted notable TV chefs like Adam Richman and Bobby Flay. The Fairgrounds went through quite an extensive facelift in 2015 which included a redesign and a brand new RV Park, giving guests who haven’t visited in awhile something new to look forward to.
Alaska State Fair August 23rd-September 3rd
The annual Alaska State Fair, held each year in Palmer, Alaska, about one hour north of Anchorage, has got to have the most beautiful scenery of any state fair. Located at the foot of the Chugach Mountains, aside from its stunning views, this fair’s claim to fame is its record setting giant vegetables.
Attendees can look forward to this year’s performances from Jim Gaffigan, Goo Goo Dolls, and Three Dog Night as well as scores of vendors selling products made or grown in Alaska and the extensive list of exhibitions of various arts, crafts, and cooking contests. The Alaska state fair doesn’t have the high attendance numbers of the other fairs on this list, but its a must-see cultural event for anyone in or visiting Alaska.
Minnesota State Fair August 23rd-September 3rd
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The Minnesota State Fair calls itself the “The Great Minnesota Get-Together,” but that’s misdirection if we’ve ever heard it. Don’t let humble Minnesota fool you, this is the largest state fair in all of the United States by daily attendance, with an attendance record of just under two million in 2017.
When looking at the fair amenities its no surprise the Minnesota State Fair is so popular: livestock competitions, food based in Minnesota agriculture, elaborate farm equipment displays on Machinery Hill, art exhibits, a science center, three different parks of rides and attractions, and six stages that host 900 shows over the 12 nights the fair operates — all free with admission!
That’s really just scratching the surface of all the activities the Minnesota State Fair is offering, and, if attendance trends continue, 2018 is looking like it’s going to be the biggest state fair in all of America.
LA County Fair August 31st-September 23rd
Perhaps its the proximity to the second largest city in America, but the LA County Fair has a different vibe from a lot of the other state fairs on this list. The emphasis on technology rather than agriculture gives the LA County Fair a modern flair. The Science of Rock Candy, an interactive LEGO exhibit called Brick City, the Retro City Gaming arcade full of vintage arcade machines, and an emphasis on eSports do a lot to set apart this technology-heavy state fair from its contemporaries.
But those looking for the touchstones of Fair culture won’t have to look far as the LA County Fair still has all the attractions one comes to expect: food on a stick, carnival rides, arts, crafts, and interactive exhibits that delve into the history and culture of the state. Local Latin performers soundtrack the many nights giving the LA County Fair an excitement and vibrancy that is lacking in other state fairs and being in L.A. it draws bigger performers than its counterparts, this year The Beach Boys, Joan Jett, and Tower of Power are performing just to name a few.
Washington State Fair August 31st-September 23rd
The Washington State Fair, locally referred to as the Puyallup Fair, is the only state fair with a Bigfoot mascot wandering around the fairgrounds. It’s the biggest single event in Washington, one of our nation’s biggest state fairs, and it draws over a million visitors each year. Khalid, Macklemore, and Florida Georgia Line give this year’s lineup a more youthful focus rather than the usual Baby Boomer focused lineups of state fairs — meaning the average fairgoer in Washington skews younger.
If you were a 90’s kid, you were likely a fan of Knott’s Berry Farm’s animatronic dinosaur dark ride, the Washington State Fair has a similar experience that goes way more in-depth, with a hands-on exhibit, and you know, fewer teenagers making out. Washington is a raspberry growing state, so be sure to try literally anything with raspberry — from jam to pies, the Washington State Fair is sure to have it covered, and it’s sure to be delicious.
State Fair of Texas September 28th-October 21st
The State Fair of Texas runs in the first few weeks of autumn and is the only state fair to rival Minnesota in attendance. Just how many people visit the State Fair of Texas every year? Well, no one knows, because Texas officially claims that it’s too much of a hassle to keep count. How very Texas of them. Attendance records or not, its no doubt that the number of people who visit the State Fair of Texas is officially termed “a shit-ton.”
Fried food is the definite star of this fair, and Texas doesn’t hold back when it comes to just what can be deep fried. Deep fried Frito pie? Of course! Fried mashed potatoes? Why not. Deep fried sweet tea? Definitely! The State Fair of Texas is Dallas’s signature yearly event, one of America’s greatest and largest state fairs, and the perfect way to end summer and start packing on the pounds for winter with semi-insane fried food.